This will be the second Thanksgiving in a row the Owensboro Red Devils are practicing on the holiday as they were warming up for the KHSAA Class 5A State Semifinal against Frederick Douglass last season and while this year they’ll also be practicing on Thanksgiving, it’ll be in preparation for their second-round opponent, the Graves County Eagles.
Red Devil coach Jay Fallin said while they’re ready for the Eagles, there’s a different feeling that morning when they’re getting ready to battle for a state final berth.
“It’s a little different to be practicing on Thanksgiving without the excitement of a state championship game,” he said. “We’re excited to be in the playoffs but advancing to that fourth round has a little different level of excitement to it. A lot of guys coach their whole careers and don’t get the opportunity to coach in a Thanksgiving practice.”
While Friday is for an opportunity to play for a bigger prize, Fallin said they want to get ready for it the same way they would anytime during the year.
“As far as our in-practice and game planning, we want to prepare with a similar approach that you do in the regular season but you want to be continuing to improve with your attention to detail and your execution in practice every day,” he said. “This is the time of year that everyone has to be all in, 100%. We have to practice efficiently and effectively moving forward because now it’s do or die.”
Like most teams that have success in the postseason, the Red Devils boast a successful class of seniors but they didn’t get where they are all by themselves.
Fallin said they also got a boost from former Red Devils.
“They’re keenly aware of the fact at this point it’s win or go home,” he said. “That brings a new level of focus from everybody. They also had the opportunity to learn from a great group of seniors that came before them. I think that’s something that’s important to remember. We graduated 20 seniors from last year’s team. These seniors have done a nice job of picking up that mantle and carrying that forward, the standard of expectation that was set by the seniors before them.”
Graves County heads into Rash Stadium Friday with a record of 7-2 as the Eagles fell to the Red Devils 28-14 on Oct. 9.
In that game, junior running back Clint McKee ran for 168 yards and a touchdown. Fallin said he knows they’ll gave to keep an eye on the Eagles workhorse.
“Anybody that’s watched them and is familiar with them knows the focal point of their offensive attack is McKee,” he said. “He runs behind a veteran, experienced and big offensive line. We’ve got to limit that. To look at the defensive scouting report, it will be 10-20 pages long but we’ve got to boil it down to, distill it down to at its essence is we’ve got to take away what they do well and do something they don’t want to do or they don’t do as well. That’s a week in, week out staple of what you have to try and do as a defensive coach. It’s no secret to say we’re going to have to limit his success and we’re going to have to force things that they maybe aren’t as comfortable with.”
Also in the first game, Owensboro’s Gavin Wimsatt threw two interceptions, including one late in the first half.
Fallin said they’ll have to clean up the turnovers this time around.
“Offensively, we hurt ourselves a couple times in the first game,” he said. “We had a pick that was an unforced error. Gavin threw the ball into tight coverage but it was accurate and bounced off the receiver and ball went up in the air and they had an inception. Going in, I think right before halftime, we were in a position where we were going to score and go up two scores and then that occurred. That kind of changed the momentum of the game and we had to grab momentum back with a special teams play to start the second half.”
The Red Devils have 32 rushing touchdowns by seven different players and 23 receiving touchdowns by eight different players.
For Fallin, that’s balance and it’s been a help for OHS this season.
“A lot of times at the end of the week when you’re looking for an MVP performance, it can be difficult for us because we want to get contributions from everybody because it makes you extremely difficult to defend when everybody, all the skilled athletes on the team, are capable of carrying the ball or catching the ball on every play,” he said.
Zach Clark, Kenyatta Carbon, Drew Lanz and Jerrick Williams are just a few of the players Fallin said have gotten better each and every week, along with the defensive line as a whole.
These four, along with many others, will take the field Friday at Rash Stadium when the Red Devils host Graves County in the second round of the KHSAA Class 5A State Playoffs.